Weeks of hard work installing new schemes and countless hours of training and practice will come to fruition Sunday for the Rams as they take on the new look Indianapolis Colts sans Peyton Manning.
While the national media will be googlie-eyed for Colts’ rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, Rams fans will be focused on their redesigned team.
What Head Coach Jeff Fisher said after practice on Friday:
We’re keeping things basic, simple, block and tackle. We’ll give them a chance to make plays but we want to see effort, speed and intensity. Especially the young guys, they don’t know what to expect and so the veterans can carry the torch for them. They’ll sit there and watch early and we’ll leave it up to them to finish the game.
Here are the few things I’ll be looking for. Let’s start with the head ‘stache.
1) Coaches: Head Coach Jeff Fisher – After a surprise departure from the Tennessee Titans after a sixteen year tenure and taking a year off from the NFL, Fisher returns to a comfortable place – on the sidelines coaching a NFL team. I expect him to be smooth yet strong and making his presence known just like his famous mustache. There will be an extra little kick in his step as he coaches his first NFL game in over a year.
Linebackers Coach Blake Williams – For lack of a better title he’s really been the on-field defensive play caller through most of training camp and I’d be surprised if this changed somehow for the preseason. For all intents and purposes the defensive coordinator-by-committee thing is over. So let’s move on.
2) Quarterback Sam Bradford – He’s shown accuracy and ease with the new Schottenheimer system so far. But we knew he’s a smart football player. Question is can his ankle handle the scrambling and running for dear life he’s going to endure with a very questionable offensive line. If I’m Schotty I get Bradford in and out quickly – maybe one series. I’m more interested in seeing how the rookie Austin Davis handles a real game.
Bradford on how comfortable he is so far:
I feel good about where I’m at, where the offense is at right now. Obviously we still have a ways to go before we’re ready for the regular season, but that’s what camp’s for, that’s what these preseason games are for. Like I said earlier, I think it’ll be good for us to go out there and just see some different looks. Obviously playing against our defense every day, you kind of see the same looks. Looks repeat themselves. So, it’ll be nice to see something different, see how we adjust to those different things, you know, and learn.
3) Running back Isaiah Pead – With Steven Jackson seeing a series or two at the most, Pead should see a lot of snaps on Sunday. If the offensive line holds and gives him a crack to wedge through look for him to have a good first game. I think the Colts defense will be surprised when they see him run up close and personal. Hello rude awakening.
4) Wide receiver Chris Givens – The Colts defense will be concentrating on more known factors Brandon Gibson and Steve Smith. Greg Salas will also be targeted often as well as Danny Amendola. Boy will they be in for a fun day as they watch Givens fly by them. Bradford on the one wide receiver that has stood out. See it’s not just me.
It’s hard to single out one guy, but I think Chris Givens has played really well over the past couple weeks. He’s smart, he understands what we’re doing. Rarely does he make a mental mistake. He always seems to be in the right position. I’ve definitely been impressed with what he’s been able to do throughout camp so far.
5) Tight end Mike McNeill – I’ve been pounding the table for Deangelo Peterson for weeks now but another tight end has been added to the mix. McNeill has been in on quite a few two tight ends sets and saw some playing time with the first offense. He’s shown good hands and quick feet for his six foot four inch, 235 pound frame. Second year Lance Kendricks shouldn’t feel too comfortable.
6) The offensive line as a whole – Here’s hoping the sum is greater than the mix-and-match parts. Stay healthy my friends and keep Bradford upright. The last thing this line needs (or the whole team for that matter) is anyone getting hurt. This is the Rams first team offensive line – most of the time:
LT: Quinn Ojinnaka – LG: Bryan Mattison – C: Robert Turner – RG: Harvey Dahl – RT: Barry Richardson.
What does Steven Jackson think about his new o-line? Clearly the line is not where it should be – yet. Tick tock goes the clock. Center Scott Wells needs to get back on the field and pronto!
It hasn’t really taken a while to gel. Our offensive staff and (Offensive Coordinator) Coach (Brian) Schottenheimer has done a good job of installing the offense and making sure that we know all the rules, especially to the protections and the run game. Now, it’s just about getting those five guys to cohesively be on the same page without even having to communicate. Once you get your offensive line to that point, that’s when you know that we’re going to be able to win the line of scrimmage and be able to be productive as an offense.
7) Cornerback Janoris Jenkins - No one is talking about his checkered past and high off field risk so far. He’s on the field opposite Cortland Finnegan with the first team. No one should be shocked as he becomes the rookie shutdown corner I think he can be.
8) Defensive tackle Michael Brockers – I’ll be keeping my third eye on the resident cookie monster’s feet. We’ve seen him in the backfield quite a few times during 11-on-11′s at training camp. He needs to get on that first quick step against the Colts o-line. Make your first introduction with Mr. Luck something he’ll never forget.
9) The outside linebacker position – It’s a no brainer that James Laurinaitis will be the Mike linebacker. The other sides of him is still pretty much up for grabs. Jo-Lonn Dunbar is my front runner for Will and Mario Haggan for the Sam linebacker. Josh Hull, Justin Cole, Rocky McIntosh will also be in the mix.
10) Kicker Greg Zuerlein - If training camp is any indication of how well this kid is going to perform then we shouldn’t worry at all. Greg the Leg has the distance and accuracy to prove why the Rams selected him the sixth round of this years draft.
Funny side note: Friday the kickers stayed after practice for the kids that came for Family Day. During the autograph session long snapper Travis Tripucka teased Zuerlein about being nervous. When asked why Zuerlein replied with his own question. ”What’s the biggest crowd you’ve played in front of?” he said to Tripucka. Tripucka replied, “Over 100,ooo.” Could it be that Zuerlein has the first NFL game jitters for Sunday? Guess the crowds at Nebraska – Omaha and Missouri Western football games weren’t as large.
Final thoughts: Nothing will be decided in terms of starting spots in just one game but throughout the entire preseason as the coaching staff begin their evaluation of players. Honestly, I’m not expecting a win. I want everyone to return to St. Louis injury free and looking forward to getting a clearer picture of how the team will look come week one of the regular season.